Saturday, 25 September 2010

Life on the Refrigerator Door, Alice Kuipers

As its title suggests, Life on the Refrigerator Door is a novel written entirely in post-it notes between a mother and her daughter. It begins very ordinarily, quick scribbled messages, beginning with a shopping list. Because most pages contain only a few lines, it is a book that is very quick to read, and indeed I had flicked through a good chunk of it it Borders three or four years ago. Knowing what was coming meant that the earliest, smallest little bickerings felt desperately sad, as both fifteen-year-old Claire and her mom feel the frustration of living in the same house and yet hardly seeing each other due to their different schedules. Claire comes across as a little bratty at first, and yet you can sympathise with both sides of the story: the single mother with a busy job as a doctor, and her daughter who feels a little neglected when Mom cancels their plans together.

When Mom leaves notes asking, casually but repeatedly, that they have a talk, you know something bad is coming, and eventually she writes down what she'd rather say in person:

"...I've got a doctor's appointment today. I've been trying to tell you. It's nothing to worry about, but I would feel strange if you didn't know. I found a lump in my right breast..."
Writing a novel entirely in fridge notes reads simply, but it must have been incredibly difficult to tell the whole story this way without it seeming contrived. There are a couple of places when I found myself thinking of Claire's response to her mom's message.

"I can't believe you'd leave me a note telling me something like this!"
Later on, though, any doubts about this choice of format are relieved when Claire admits that,
"It seems easier sometimes to ask you stuff on paper."
Besides, much of the tension in Life on the Refrigerator Door comes not from what is written down but what is not said: the irritable note followed by several pages of single line messages while in life away from the fridge Claire and her mom continue in uncomfortable silence, foreboding a disaster to start the messages up again.

Life on the Refrigerator Door is another quick read that nonetheless stays with the reader, using a minimum of words to tell a powerful message about the value of spending time with loved ones. Be warned: with all its cleverly crafted simplicity, it is a strong tearjerker.

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